Public services for the people, by the people





May 16, 2022

Cities are finding ways to make the most of their digital tools to make it easier for citizens to access public services, participate in local decisions and contribute ideas. So far, their work has gone under the radar. That is about to change, as the UserCentriCities project is about to crown the first winner of the award for best user-centric service in European cities and regions.

The award aims to raise awareness and recognize the outstanding achievements of European cities and regions in developing user-centric services for their citizens. A group of high-level experts from international institutions, the public sector and academia had the difficult task of reviewing 32 submitted projects. Their assessment was based on user-centric principles for the design and delivery of digital public services, as outlined in the Tallinn Ministerial Declaration on e-Government. Three finalists stood out.

Helmet.fi Web Library – Espoo

Person scrolling through online catalog

The culture sector has been one of the hardest hit during the Covid-19 pandemic, but it has also been one of the most responsive, bringing culture to people through online services. Espoo’s libraries had gone digital long before the health crisis. Since 2012, the city has involved its citizens in the ideation, design, beta-testing and ongoing feedback on their dream e-library.

The result is a joint online library service serving more than one million people in Espoo, Helsinki, Kauniainen and Vantaa. The service is available in multiple languages, such as English, Finnish, and Swedish, and can be accessed through the Taskukirjasto app, which means pocket library in Finnish.

From e-books and e-magazines to music and training courses, the catalog of over three million items is free and open to everyone. Users can browse and renew loans through their account, reserve library materials, save their reading histories and checklists, rate library materials, save search phrases, and update contact information.

Helmet.fi is a great example of digital services complementing offline offerings, increasing opportunities for learning and cultural experiences. This makes library services more flexible and accessible to more people. Of Helmet’s 30 million library visits per year, 17 million are online, and a city survey found the app boasts a 98% acceptance rate among citizens.

Allowance for pre-primary education (proactive) – Helsinki

Receipt of the award SMS

Most parents know what it means to struggle to find and apply for preschool education. In Helsinki, they get a helping hand. They receive an SMS offering an allowance at a nearby kindergarten and can accept the proposal by replying to the SMS. Compared to an app, this solution takes into account different levels of digital literacy and the accessibility of the connection. It is also extremely simple to reproduce since it only involves sending a text message.

By removing the need to fill out forms, call preschool providers, and process applications, the city makes life and work easier for parents and child care directors. A child’s request is confirmed in minutes rather than weeks.

The offer is a proposal, which means that the parents do not have to accept it and they can choose another option. Since 2021, the service can be used everywhere in Helsinki, and in January of that year, 5,591 families received text messages suggesting places in pre-primary education for their children. Nine out of ten families accepted the offer.

“In the future, Helsinki aims to offer more of its services proactively and automatically, or at least to make personalized service suggestions,” says Mikko Rusama, digital director of Helsinki. “The proactive operating model should be used especially in statutory services to which residents are entitled. Proactivity and personalized services save everyone time and money.

Helsinki wants to make the daily life of the inhabitants easier, and for this it aims to anticipate their service needs and provide them at all times without tying them to specific timetables or service points.

Mijn Rotterdam (My Rotterdam) – Rotterdam

Rotterdam’s digital solution aims to bring the neighborhood’s vibe online. Mijn Rotterdam is a digital meeting place where the people of Rotterdam can participate, discuss and decide what is crucial for them.

What projects exist in your neighborhood? Can you get involved? Do you want to propose a project? All this is possible with Mijn Rotterdam. From its name, the platform was created with direct support and input from residents and has been operational for a year.

By accessing information about Mijn Rotterdam, residents are better informed about what is happening and how they can participate, giving them more control over local politics and decision-making.

Platform users can give their opinion through polls, propose ideas and vote on existing ones, read news about the city and its projects, organize meetings and solicit funding for their project ideas. . With increased participation, residents will also feel a stronger sense of ownership and belonging to their neighborhood and the city.

Mijn Rotterdam will continue to evolve, always keeping in mind the growing needs of the people of Rotterdam. As a participation tool, new features will be continuously added to the platform.

Other forms of user-centricity

While we wait to find out which of the three finalists will take home the UserCentriCities award – the winner will be announced at the UserCentriCities ceremony in Espoo on June 7 – more inspiring examples can be found on the User-Centric Services Repository, a unique online inventory of best practices. Get inspired by other solutions, and maybe next year you’ll want to submit your service for the UserCentriCities Awards.

For more information about UserCentriCities and how to join us, please contact [email protected]